by Maria Schulz
I’m trying out a new feature today (yes, you will be seeing this again) called “Way Back Wednesdays,” where I hop in a time machine and visit a place from the past (either personal or historic). So where would I go if I could go anywhere?
This old photo of Flushing High School gave me a bit of inspiration for this post. It made me go all Peggy Sue Got Married/Back to the Future/Happy Days as I imagined going back in time as a teenager at my parents’ high school.
I can just see myself now: I’m wearing a blouse, skirt and heels, and I look like I’m 30 even though I’m just a teenager. As I walk through the halls of Flushing High, I spot my father. He’s got a pompadour and a pack of cigarettes poking out of his coat pocket. He is joking around with his friends and hanging around a little too long in one part of the hall; a teacher pokes his head out of the classroom and tells him to “get to class already!”
In the crush of students, I can hear my mother before I even see her; I would know that beautiful laugh anywhere. Mom is heading this way, oblivious to my father and of course to me. She is wearing the fake beauty mark on her face that her English teacher will eventually wipe off because he says she doesn’t need it. It’s a nice complement but it horrifies her.
I follow my mother to Spanish class and feel happy when the teacher asks her to read. I hear her clear accent as she prattles on at breakneck speed in her first language. Her voice and accent reminds me of home.
After Spanish class is over, I head over to my father’s music class. I witness his solo on Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. He’s a good trumpet player, and a bit of a goof ball. When the bell rings, I follow him outside and watch from the bleachers while he plays baseball. It’s incredible to see him so young and strong; but like all of his future children, he is not fast at all.
While I’m back in the old neighborhood, I swing by the local movie theater where my Uncle Don works. He’s an usher, and just like I figured, as friendly as always. After we know each other for about 5 minutes, he tells me a joke and I hear that laugh that I have loved for as long as I can remember. A few minutes later, Uncle Don has invited me back to his parents’ (my grandparents’) house for dinner.
On the walk back home, Uncle Don and I run into our cousin, Eleanor. I know her but she doesn’t know me…yet. We like each other immediately. She’s shy and bookish, but then again, so am I.
When we finally arrive at my grandparents’, my Uncle introduces me as a new kid in the neighborhood. I’ve told him I’m in from Long Island (what was then just farmland), and so he introduces me as if I’m an alien from a strange land. Of course, that’s exactly what I am. Everyone says ‘hello’ and I can see hope spring up in my grandmother’s eyes, as she thinks maybe I’m his new girlfriend. Of course, my uncle has no such inclinations towards me, but still, my grandmother dreams. She sets another plate on the table. I’m in!
I am amazed by how young everyone looks. Nonnie has long black hair (I only remember her with short hair) and she’s so lively. She’s laughing and talking, both with her voice and with her hands, like every good expressive Italian. As everyone digs into spaghetti and meatballs, my grandmother keeps saying, “Is it good? Do you like it?” The men just nod and eat, which I guess they think is enough confirmation for all of her hard work. I smile and say, “This is the best spaghetti and meatballs I’ve ever had!” Which is true, because her spaghetti and meatballs always was the best.
As soon as the dinner plates are cleared away and Nonni’s homemade apple pie is put on the table, I peek again at Grandpa. He’s sitting across from me, looking so young and handsome. His hair is dark and his smile is wide as he helps himself to some pie. Junior (my father) is at the table too, enjoying my grandmother’s apple pie, telling funny jokes, and looking eager to finish and run off to some other adventure.
Uncle Don tells another story about a coworker who drives him crazy. There are laughs and eye rolls, and of course, more pie. Uncle Sal is even there, back from a Vaudeville gig. He’s talking about how Lana Turner and Jackie Gleason like to stop by the nightclub where he works. After he eats, he will read the paper and then head off to work to rub shoulders with even more celebrities and gather more funny stories.
I have been laughing very hard, but suddenly I start to cry. My grandmother squeezes my hand and asks me, “Do you miss your family?” “Yes,” I reply. Then she smiles and says, “Are they as crazy as this family?” I laugh through the tears and reply, “Oh yes.”
Thankfully, I’m not asked much more because they are all so full of life that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. I smile at my grandfather as he offers me a slice of pie. I think to myself, ‘I’ll see you again soon, but it will never be enough time.’
After dinner, Uncle Don puts on a Glenn Miller album and teaches me some dance steps in the living room. He spins me like he’s Fred Astaire and I’m Ginger Rogers. My father dances with me too and even manages to lift me clear off the ground. His back isn’t bad yet, I think to myself. My grandparents watch and laugh while Uncle Sal reads the paper and smokes at the kitchen table.
This has been fun, but I have to head back. It’s hard to walk away from them, because I didn’t realize how much I missed them. But I’m needed 60+ years in the future.
I can’t wait to tell those jokes I heard from all of them. Maybe I’ll even practice those dance moves I learned. But first, I have to sit down and eat that slice of Nonni’s pie that I smuggled back home.
Recipe: Apple Pie
What is it about a grandmother’s apple pie that makes people want to go back in time and have some? Enjoy this apple pie recipe from another grandma with serious skills, and think of my grandmother somewhere, smiling.
So…who would you visit/where would you go in your own personal time machine? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks.